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Career Advice

From Marc Cenedella
Marc Cenedella

When two candidates are equally experienced, equally credentialed, and equally capable, who gets the job?

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Interviewing

Interview Questions Candidates Should Ask

The questions you ask during an interview often determine whether you get the job.

By Debra Donston-Miller
FILED UNDER: Interview questions.
Interviewing

We've all been there. It's the point in the job interview when you've answered every question thrown at you in a pointed, authoritative, relevant manner.

"Now, do you have any questions for me?" the interviewer asks.

This is the make-or-break moment of the interview, say experts, especially in a market with more candidates than jobs. It's your chance to demonstrate your insight into the organization at which you're interviewing, your industry acumen, your communications and people skills, and your desire for the job.

"The worst thing you could do in an interview — other than passing gas — is to say, 'I don't have any questions — you've answered them all,' " said Mitch Beck, president of Crossroads Consulting, an executive search firm and employment agency. "Who wants to work with somebody who doesn't have any inquiries about the company? It shows that you have no brains."

It’s your last chance to win over the interviewer, and this scenario puts pressure on the candidate to enter the interview prepared to ask thoughtful, focused questions of their own, said Cheryl Palmer, a certified executive career coach and the founder of Call to Career, a firm that provides C-level executives with career coaching and resume- writing services.

"That's your last opportunity to really show to that employer, ‘Yes, I'm the best candidate for the job,’ " Palmer said. " I always advise people to do their homework and to work any information they've gleaned from their research into their questions so that they really come across as well-prepared candidates."

Good question

J.B Bryant is president of Strategic Alignment Group, a management consultant that helps businesses identify their competitive advantage. He said job hunters should look at the questions they ask during an interview as their opportunity to create a distinct competitive advantage.

"Something has to set you apart, more so, maybe, in this economy, because the employers are churning through so many potential people," he said.

A safe way to impress an interviewer is to know everything there is to know about the company , the industry and the interviewer themselves

"Know everything you can about a company before you interview," Beck said. "Do a simple thing like Google the person you are going to interview with."

The questions you bring to an interview help the employer determine whether you are a good fit for the company, but they also help determine whether the company is a good fit for you.

Prospective employees may be tempted to take any job port in an economic storm, especially if they have been job hunting for an extended period of time, but a bad fit won't benefit anyone in the long run.

"I think it's helpful for candidates being interviewed to come up with good, thoughtful questions that are going to accomplish two purposes," Palmer said. "They need to be able to demonstrate to that potential boss that they have really thought about the job and have some good, probing questions. But they also need to ask questions that will help them determine whether or not this is going to work out."

Beck went further, emphasizing that the interview is the prospective employer's opportunity to convince you that the company will be a good fit for your needs. The interview is also a chance for the job seeker to turn the tables and get more information out of the employer.

"Remember that an interview is a two-way street," Beck said. "You have to convince the person who is interviewing you that they need to hire you. But remember: You're not there to beg. They need to convince you just as much as you need to convince them."

Accordingly, one of the most important questions to ask during an interview relates to expectations, Bryant said.

"In my experience, expectations are not communicated very clearly," he said. "Most people — at every level — come in, and there seem to be an awful lot of assumptions being made, both on the new employee side and on the employer side. You hear people say that it takes six months to get integrated into a company and to really be productive. Well, it doesn't need to. If you don't ask anything else, find out what the expectations are."

Bad question

Worse than silence are bad questions that a prospective employer can not answer; demonstrate your ignorance; or worse, offend the interviewer that it eliminates a job seeker from consideration.

There are some questions that have always been taboo during an interview — rushing into questions about salary, for example. But have any questions become no-no's since the economic downturn? No, experts said. The rules are pretty much the same as always.

"The rules are the same — it's just that ( the questions) count more than ever before," said Call to Career's Palmer. "That's not to say that it was OK to ask about salary ( during an interview) before and now it's not. It simply means that everything is much more serious because of the competitiveness of the job market. So, things that an employer might have overlooked before are really, really going to be a big deal now because you have so many qualified candidates looking for the same position."

"Stay away from questions that aren't going to help you any," said Crossroads Consulting's Beck. "Getting into somebody's personal life is really of no interest. Asking whether someone is pro- or anti-Obama is not a good question to ask. I would stay away from questions about salary. I would stay away from questions about benefits. You want to ask questions that are relevant to the job and to the opportunity that you are being presented with."

Bryant said it's important for prospective employees to use their intuition to help determine which questions will resonate positively with interviewers.

"You need to feel out the personality of the person you're interviewing with," said Bryant. "Are you going to ask, 'Are there any discipline issues with my (potential) direct reports?' before you even get the job? That might be seen as meddling. But, 'Where did my predecessor leave off?' That's perfectly acceptable to ask in an interview.”

Debra Donston-Miller covers work-life issues and difficult job-search situations for TheLadders.

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